Ever get your thumbs mixed up when trying to pull of a tricky manoeuvre, or wish your drone was more responsive and did exactly what you wanted? We’ve all been there. But now it looks as though scientists at the University of Florida have moved a step closer to intuitive flight, or at least flight powered to a degree by the mind.
Researchers at the University of Florida have held the first ever Brain Drone Racing competition, in which competitors are strapped into an EEG (electroencephalography) headset, and use the power of thought to fly their drones.
Okay, it’s probably a slight exaggeration to say that the pilots were flying drones with their minds. But it’s certainly true to say that there’s a relationship between what was going on inside their heads and the drones’ flight in the real world.
To put it more simply, we need to look closer at the relationship between the person, the EEG headset and the drone. EEG has been used for years by neurologists as a diagnostic tool. Patterns in a patient’s brain wave activity can be identified, making it easier to spot abnormalities that could give rise to seizures or other neurological disorders.
It’s only recently that people have started using EEG to ‘control’ devices, games and technology in general. The team at the University of Florida – probably using a headset from a manufacturer such as Emotiv Systems, Neurosky, or Interaxon – used EEG to identify the electrical activity associated with particular thoughts in each wearer’s brain. To get their drones racing, the team has stated that they recorded where neurons fire when the wearer imagines pushing a chair across the floor.
They then wrote code to translate these signals into commands, that computers send to the drones to make them fly. And there you have it, a drone powered by the mind.
“With events like this, we’re popularizing the use of BCI [brain-computer interface] instead of it being stuck in the research lab,” said Chris Crawford, a PhD student in human-centered computing.
The idea of EEG as a method of control is an innovation that could come in handy right across the spectrum of technology, not just in the world of drones. Potential applications range from unlocking your car to turning on the TV.